Watertown City School District reopening for full in-person instruction

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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — With the start of the school year only weeks away, school districts across the North Country are beginning to release guidelines for students, staff and families.

During a Board of Education Meeting at the Watertown City School District on August 17, Superintendent Patricia LaBarr District-wide plans for the upcoming school year. This included guidance on mask wearing, social distancing, transportation, daily health screenings and sports.

She also confirmed that the District will be reopening in-person instruction to all grades, Kindergarten through 12, five days a week. The District has eliminated both its hybrid and remote learning option. However remote learning will be used as a back-up in the case of a COVID surge, and homeschool and homebound learning options remain available to students.

Assisting Superintendent LaBarr in delivering this information to the BOE was Family Practice Physician Dr. Benjamin Rudd. Dr. Rudd recommended that the District follows guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This included universal mask wearing indoors for students and faculty, regardless of vaccination status. Mask breaks will be given throughout the school day.

“I think it’s important that we continue to control the spread of droplets as best we can in the school setting,” Dr. Rudd said at the meeting. “I think an important thing for us to recognize is that a good chunk of the school cannot be vaccinated.”

Dr. Rudd was referring to students 12 years and younger who are currently ineligible to receive the vaccine. He said these masks recommendations also may have impacts on contact tracing, that if students are masked, some classroom quarantines may be avoided.

Regarding social distancing, the District plans to follow guidance which requires three feet between students and six feet between students and faculty, and all faculty members. This is regardless of vaccination status. LaBarr added that the District is working to move larger classes to bigger classrooms to allow for these distancing requirements.

On the school bus, students will all be required to wear a mask. However this year, there will be no restrictions on bus seating, which will allow two to three students per seat. LaBarr shared that the District will prioritize seating children from the same household together, but this is no longer required. Buses will also be lowered a few inches to allow for circulation.

Another change for the District is daily health screenings. For the 2021-2022 school year, no daily health screenings will be required. However, parents and guardians will be asked to conduct daily temperature checks to ensure students due not have symptoms.

For quarantine and contact tracing protocols, the District has been assigned a contact research specialist from the State Department of Health. Similar to last year, if students show symptoms for COVID-19, they are required to be sent home until a negative test is provided, a chronic condition is proven or a signed doctors note stating an acute illness is given to the District. Those who test positive for the coronavirus are required to quarantine for 14 days.

The District is also planning to start its upcoming athletic season. Beginning August 23, all sports are permitted as state officials lifted restrictions on June 15. In the circumstance Jefferson County becomes an area of “high” community transmission for the virus, the District will be required to cancel or virtually host all high risk sports or extracurricular activities.

Superintendent LaBarr added that an administrative plan will be released for each of the District’s seven schools. The Watertown City School District previously followed a hybrid schedule during its previous school year.

The 2021-2022 school year is set to begin following the Labor Day holiday on September 7.

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